Autumn 1917 was a season of mixed messages.
The United States was at war for the first time in a generation, and the country was coming to grips with the necessities of war. Young men were marching off to training camps -- sometimes happily, sometimes not. Large factories and smaller businesses were beginning to convert from the peacetime pursuits to wartime production. Flags were ubiquitous, as were signs proclaiming patriotism and denouncing Germany as the enemy of all that was good and noble in western civilization.
In the midst of this wrenching change and patriotic fervor, much of what was traditional about life in Ohio's capital city went on as it always had. Columbus saw the coming of Thanksgiving as a time of remembrance, renewal and revitalization -- but it also was a time to reinforce support for the young men who were not at home for the holidays.
Sixty miles down U.S. Route 23 from Columbus was Chillicothe, the home of Camp Sherman. Over spring and summer 1917, the federal government had employed hundreds of men to build a training camp for American soldiers on more than 2,000 acres in Chillicothe. By September, the first recruits began to arrive. The transition from citizen to doughboy began.
While this was going on, Columbus and much of the rest of the country began to look forward to the holiday season.
On Nov. 1, Victrola released its new records for November. This was an event widely anticipated by a waiting world.
We tend to forget how much entertainment people got from music machines of one kind or another in an era without radio, television or the internet. People tended to sing a bit more in more places than they do today. Even the soldiers marching off to war sang new songs, such as "Over There," and older songs, such as "Tenting Tonight."
The new songs promoted by Victrola were a bit military and a bit not. John McCormack sang "Send Me Away with a Smile," purported to be "a popular soldier song." On the other hand, Frances White sang "Six Times Six" in the "Hitchy-Koo" style, while listeners also could hear "two delightful Hawaiian duets by Louise and Ferera." Apparently there was something for everybody.
As Thanksgiving approached, people began to prepare for the holiday. A local newspaper noted turkeys were becoming scarce at local markets and might cost as much as 40 cents apiece. This was the era in which an average working person might count themselves fortunate to be earning a few dollars a day.
Many people celebrated Thanksgiving at home with family and friends. Others saw the holiday as an opportunity to be out and about.
Every major restaurant and hotel in town offered some sort of special for Thanksgiving. The Seneca Hotel on East Broad Street advertised its regular chicken dinner for $1 and its special Thanksgiving dinner for $1.50.
Every theater was open. The Broadway offered "The Dream Garden" while the Southern presented "A Little Girl in a Big City." The Lyceum deferred at least a bit to the times by presenting "The Military Maids."
The major event of Thanksgiving Day, however, centered on a welcome to Columbus of marching men.
A local sign carried the message: "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp! Here come the Soldiers, the Flower of Camp Sherman -- One thousand of them in Grand Military Tournament on Ohio Field -- Thanksgiving Day -- Exhibition Drill, Calisthenics and Manual of Arms, by the pick of the Columbus Boys from Camp Sherman, at 1:15 PM.
"At 2:00 o'clock the whistle will blow for that Great Football Game -- Army Stars from Camp Sherman vs. Ohio State Champions. Entire proceeds of this great patriotic demonstration will go to the trust fund to benefit the boys of the 83rd Division."
The 83rd was one of the divisions organized and trained at Camp Sherman.
As advertised, the men of Camp Sherman left the train station and marched through Columbus to the Ohio State University campus with cheering crowds along their route. The troops also were welcomed at their drill and were cheered as they left after being defeated by the Ohio State football team.
Perhaps the soldiers might have been consoled as they returned to camp by an admonishment in a local newspaper by the Moores and Ross dairy showing a pilgrim father cranking a wooden bucket under the watchful eye of the lady of the house. After several lines of verse, the advertisement concludes, "And above all to add the final touch to Thanksgiving Dinner, add Moores and Ross, the Cream of All Creams -- Eat a Plate of Ice Cream Every Day!"
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.